It’s a beautiful morning at Pasadena’s historic Rose Bowl stadium. It’s hard to measure the excitement in the air, but here in my car, it is indeed palpable. I’m here to live out one of my childhood fantasies. For many who come to this storied place, such a fantasy would be scoring the winning touchdown in a big game. I glance over at the stadium, then continue to my destination: Lot K. I am here to live out my dream of meeting dinosaurs!
Like many children, dinosaurs played a huge part in my life growing up. We visited museums, saw movies (Land Before Time anyone?), and even played dinosaur board games. As a slightly older child, Jurassic Park (both film and book) captured my imagination. Names like stegosaurus and dimetrodon were part of my vernacular, living right there alongside their more famous cousins brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus Rex. But one thing I never got to do was to meet one, other than as skeletons. Until today.
Apatosaurus is so long I had to wait to be in another lane to get a full photo.
For kids like me – even those who turned into adults like me – Jurassic Quest makes that dream a reality, bringing dinosaurs to life through an interactive drive-thru experience. What was once a convention center show is now completely socially distant, filling a huge void in the “things we can actually do right now as a family” category. Via an audio tour played on YouTube on my phone, I was guided through an exhibit of roughly 70 species of dinosaurs and other ancient creatures, while I rolled down the window to take pictures. Many – even most – of the dinosaurs moved, and made sounds. (The tour tells us that the sounds of one of the duck billed dinosaurs is its actual sound, as it has air tubes running down the bone crest on its head. Scientists ran air through it, and voila, dinosaur sounds!)
The sounds emitted by this guy are real!
I pass by many of my favorites: the apatosaurus, triceratops, and a huge pteranodon called quetzalcoatlus. I marvel at so many new species I’d never heard of, like kosmoceratops and it’s ridiculous headpiece, and carnotaurus, owner of the smallest arm to body ratio. And, of course, I gaze in awe at the life-sized (all are life-sized) T-Rex. My inner child is beyond satisfied.
But how realistic are these dinosaurs? Following the tour, I was lucky enough to have a phone conversation with Nick Schaefer, Jurassic Quest’s Customer Experience Specialist in Education. Basically, if you learn anything from Jurassic Quest, Nick designed it. Nick tells me that nearly everything in the JQ experience is based in fossil evidence, but a few creative liberties were taken, mostly as relate to sounds and skin/scale/feather coloration. (Even this, though, isn’t just a bunch of wild guesses. Some dinosaur feathers have been found with pigment remnants, while other coloration is based on what scientists know their environment would have looked like.)
T-Rex. The coloring is largely a guess, but many dinosaurs were probably brightly pigmented – like modern birds – to attract mates.
So yes, some dinosaurs had feathers. That is confirmed scientifically. You see, Nick tells me, dinosaurs roamed the planet for roughly 165 million years, during which they had a lot of time to evolve. (Mammals, by comparison, can all trace back to a single ancestor about 65 million year ago, and bats, humans, koalas, and whales all descended from that, so think of where we will all be in another 100 million years.) As a result of all this evolution, dinosaurs can’t be thought of as just large reptiles, all closely related. The classification is much wider than what our modern world contains, and dinosaurs cross the gaps between reptiles, birds, and even amphibians as we would know them today. So skin coverings, one of our main ways to classify animals, aren’t ubiquitous across the group. The same goes with being warm- or cold-blooded – dinosaurs may have had species in both of these classifications – or even mesothermic, a sort of in-between.
Pteranodons like quetzacoatlus (excuse the holes meant to stop it from blowing away) have been found with proto-feathers, referred to as dinofuzz, that would adapt into modern feathered birds.
The audio tour winds its way through the exhibits, about 35 minutes in length, though the experience is longer with pauses as one drives between the creatures and stops for cars in front to finish their picture taking. We visit underwater exhibits with huge aquatic reptiles and even a huge prehistoric shark – most of these are not dinosaurs, but are still included in the Jurassic Quest experience – discover a large variety of ceratopsians beyond the tri- and kosmo-, and meet real velociraptors. Unlike their movie counterparts, real raptors were very small, and most covered in feathers. But as dinosaurs resembling large chickens wouldn’t have been scary, the “modern” velociraptor was born. We hear the roars of the predators and the braying of the prey as we roll down the windows to take photos between narrations. And if we have questions, the tour provides a phone number we can text for the scientist on duty!
Want to know about carnotaurus’ bone spikes or short arms? Text the scientist on duty!
In all, I spend about ninety minutes at Jurassic Quest, even passing the drive-thru souvenir shop at the end. With a $49 per car price tag, it would be expensive for just me, but for a family of four, it seems reasonable, especially given the aforementioned lack of things we have to do during Covid times. For more information on the tour – there are currently two traveling exhibitions and plans to open a third later this year – visit the Jurassic Quest website by clicking here.
If there is a dinosaur lover in your family, Jurassic Quest might just be the thing you’ve been waiting for. Just keep your hands and arms inside your car. These dinos look hungry!
Thank you to Jurassic Quest for including me in the media preview for the Pasadena show, and for the wonderful conversation with Nick following!
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